Block on rare Napoleon death mask leaving UK

The plaster mask was sold for £175,000 to an overseas buyer earlier this year by a descendant of the brother of its original owner

An export ban has been placed on a rare Napoleon Bonaparte “death mask” in the hope that a British buyer can be found for the “macabre” object.

The plaster mask was sold for £175,000 to an overseas buyer earlier this year by a descendant of the brother of its original owner, Reverend Richard Boys. He was a chaplain on the Atlantic island of St Helena in May 1821 when the exiled French emperor died.

Leslie Webster, a member of a government committee which advised Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, about the mask, said it has “a power and immediacy that raises the hairs on the back of the neck”.

Ms Webster added: “The sense that you are in the presence of Napoleon is very strong. There are many grandiose portraits, as well as contemporary British caricatures of this great and controversial figure, but this deathbed image speaks far more directly to us – here we see the man himself, and sense his charisma, even in death.”

A British buyer has until 14 January next year to match the sale price or the export will be allowed. This period could be extended.

There are other death masks of Napoleon, but most are believed to be later copies. This was one of two given to Rev Boys shortly after the death of the emperor who conquered much of Europe but was finally defeated by a coalition of mainly British, Dutch and Prussian troops at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The object was almost certainly taken by Francis Burton, a British surgeon in attendance at his death.

All but one of the other masks are in national collections in France or in Corsica.

Mr Vaizey noted that with the 200th anniversary of Waterloo approaching there is still a “huge fascination” with Napoleon in the UK.

“This is perhaps one of the most unusual objects I’ve ever come across, both fascinating and somewhat macabre, but I believe it should remain here, and hope a UK buyer steps forward to help ensure that happens,” he said.

At the time of the sale by auctioneers Bonhams in June, the owner of the mask, Andrew Boys, said he had been “surprised” to learn he had inherited the mask at a family funeral.

The cast is inscribed “Rev Mr Boys” on the inside and comes with a note by Boys reading: “This Cast was taken from the Face of Napoleon Buonaparte as he lay dead at Longwood St. Helena 7th May 1821 which I do hereby certify/ R. Boys M.A. Sen.r Chaplain/ By Rubidge.”

Rev Boys played chess with Napoleon and brought several mementos of him when he returned to England, according to Bonhams. The death mask is the latest major cultural artefact to be subject to a government export ban.

The export of two “vitally important” paintings by George Stubbs – the first depictions of a kangaroo and a dingo in Western art – was averted when a wealthy shipping magnate made a £1.5m donation to the National Maritime Museum so it could buy them.

In September, a ring owned by Jane Austen – which had been sold to US singer Kelly Clarkson – was bought by the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, after an export ban. The museum launched a fundraising campaign to get more than £150,000 to buy it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power